Frontiers of Infant Psychiatry - Vol. 2

By Justin D. Call; Eleanor Galenson et al. | Go to book overview

31
Observations on the Nature of the
Infant-Grandparent Relationship:
A Preliminary Report

Arthur Kornhaber, M.D.


Introduction

James M. Herzog, M. D.

The more things change, the more they remain the same. Dr. Kornhaber's paper introduces us to the important nurturing and developmentally facilitating role that the extended family plays in the life of a small child. He focuses on the positive aspects of these interactions and on the joy that such interchange can bring to all involved. His findings are consonant with those that suggest that support networks for new parents aid good parenting (Brown, 1975) and with clinical impressions suggesting that the birth of a grandchild may be a critical consolidating experience in adult development (Cath, 1982).

Kornhaber focuses on facilitation and complementarity. He does not address the frequently reciprocal issues of competition, conflict, restitution, and revenge. In this regard a study of the parent-grandparent relationship becomes an imperative correlative for the study of the grandparent-infant one. It has been generally accepted that motherhood brings an opportunity to rework in a somewhat expanded way daughter-mother issues (Bibring et al., 1961), work that is often not completed until the second or subsequent pregnancies. Similar observations have been made with regard to expectant fatherhood (Herzog, 1982). In a longitudinal observational study of eight families (Herzog, chapter 36, this volume) it became abundantly clear that complicated dynamic interplays between parents, parental representations, and grandparents occur frequently in many families. The converse is also true. Grandparents must deal with the reawakening of many vestigial conflicts their children's fecundity and the very presence of a new infant may stimulate.

For these reasons it seems very critical to me that Dr. Kornhaber's excellent work be continued and enlarged to examine the grandparent-infant relationship in light of the grandparent-parent relationship—past, present, actual, and desired. It seems to me that this is particularly critical if one wishes to prescribe grandparent involvement in the family life. This ancient and seemingly universal good needs to be understood as an opportunity that is predicated on more than the appearance of a new child. As with all such psychobiological

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